Cruyff: The misuse of the Number 10

Number 10

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff recently gave his thoughts on the disadvantages of using the Number 10 position in a 4-3-3 system.

Cruyff voiced his views in a his weekly column for Dutch newspaper ‘De Telegraaf’ after Ajax chose to tactically line-up with a player in the authentic No.10 role despite setting up in their usual 4-3-3 formation.

A concerned Cruyff gave the following fascinating insight in the misuse of the No.10 role, using his own experiences as a coach:

I can give you more than 10 reasons why a ‘number 10’ does not work in a 4-3-3 system. It does not make you stronger, but weaker.

During the eighties, when I was manager of Ajax, all of our opponents played the 4-4-2 system with two forwards. In order to get an extra tactical advantage, we decided to field three defenders, changing from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3, where our midfield was set up as a diamond.

We did not actually played 3-4-3, but more a 3-1-2-1-3 system, creating two extra lines which made the execution of the positioning play even better. The ‘number 10′ was the player behind the three forwards. At Ajax I chose John Bosman and later at Barcelona, José Bakero.

The past couple of years the opponents have figured out this little trick and decided to once again field three forwards. This often entailed a striker with two wingers, forcing you to use four defenders yet again. Fielding a ’10’ in this situation is risky.

To preserve the right balance, the centre-midfielder should not be fielded in an attacking, but in a defensive position. Thus, a ‘number 6’ instead of a ‘number 10’.


With a ’10’ you will play 4-2-1-3 and with a ‘6’ it will be 4-1-2-3. Taking a good look at the two numbers in the middle, you can see that with a ’10’ two players are behind the ball and one is set up offensively, as with a ‘6’ three (1+2) players are behind the ball of which two are offensive. This is how you kill two birds with one stone: both defensively as offensively you will have an extra player.

By choosing the ’10’ anyway, you will get yourself in trouble as soon as the opponents are pushing forward. In this case, there will be only two midfielders behind the ball, who are also required to give 60 metre passes. This is impossible to do.


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